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Music Education in Libraries, Archives, and Museums

Libraries, Archives and Museums

Are you looking for budget-friendly resources to help teach your students? Maybe you want your students to experience music from different regions of the world.  Perhaps you are looking for materials that support lessons on the evolution of instruments or pivotal moments in music history, but you don’t know where to begin. Look no further than libraries, archives, and museums.  With resources available in person and online, these cultural and educational pillars of the community have resources to support music education of all types.

Public Libraries

Step Into Your Library

From the latest political thriller novel to how-to manuals on deck building, public libraries contain a wealth of information. Materials on music are no exception.  Library patrons can find biographies on musicians, composers, and influential music figures for both adults and children.  There are books and magazines that cover topics like music history, music appreciation, and the science of music, as well as professional training and career development for music related professions.  You can find instruction manuals for instruments and sheet music covering a plethora of musical style or discover stories revolving around music.

Audiovisual…If you prefer to listen to content, public libraries have you covered.  They have CDs, audio books, and content in other audio formats.  If you want to learn guitar, gain an understanding of Beethoven, or enjoy a fun music oriented movie like Bill and Ted Face the Music or Mr. Holland’s Opus…libraries have that, too.

Some public libraries offer more unique materials for check out.  In Lopez Island Washington, the Lopez Island Library provides musical instruments that can be checked out.  Ann Arbor District Library offers a list of “Unusual Stuff to Borrow,” which includes musical tools.

Creative Spaces & Programs

Libraries have evolved…More public libraries are creating spaces where patrons (that’s you!) can practice their creative endeavors. These creative labs often contain things like 3-D printers and pens, sewing machines, and free access to creative software like Photoshop and video and audio edition. Some even have recording studios. These spaces provide great opportunities to get hands on experience with tools that would otherwise be too expensive…for many people…students…educators.

Programs…If you are interested in turning up the volume in the library, keep an eye out for events and programs.  Many libraries offer live performances…whether it is a Christmas concert (pianist) or…in the United Kingdom, Get Loud in Libraries offers…

Make It Digital

Looking for something in the digital world?…Public libraries offer an abundance of digital resources. Many of the same resources you find on your library’s shelves can be accessed from a computer, phone, or e-reader. This includes e-books, e-audiobooks, digital magazines, and streaming music and video. Having a library card can also mean access to online databases, which can be excellent research resources.

I encourage you to explore your public libraries webpage.  Some libraries have lists of virtual resources available through the library and outside institutions. My local library lists its virtual programs, its digital library collections, arts & culture resources, online music & performance resources…resources to engage, education and enrichment, story time, and more…

You can discover so much just from ready resources that you can find on library websites. It is through the Live Oak Public Libraries Ready Resources Virtual Programs webpage that I discovered the “Virtual Field Trips” that Atlanta Symphony Orchestra offers video performances, educational programs, and so much more.  One thing that caught my eye is the ASO Mastercalss Series with videos ranging from how to play a drum roll to exploring trombones to musician tips and more…so many ways to engage.

Also found through the Ready Resources of Live Oak Public Libraries is the Carnegie Hall Music Explores, which provides lesson plans and resources to “teach your students about new musical genres and cultural traditions.”

K-12 & University Libraries

If you are teaching at a K-12 school, talking to the school librarian. There may be resources available at your school that can support your music program.  If not, the librarian may be able to help you find the kinds of resources you seek.

Consider looking into university libraries…University libraries are often open to the public for research and use of their resources (though there may be restrictions and fees). These libraries have excellent resources ranging from books, periodicals, sheet music, musical records, online collections, and databases. Many university libraries focus on specific files, such as music, and coexist with archives that house primary sources of great historical value.  For example,…

Library of Congress (& Other National Libraries)

Don’t forget to consider national libraries when you are looking for music educational resources.  The Library of Congress, which acts as the national library for the United States of America, has many resources available to the public.

Concerts…The Library of Congress offers concerts during which one can experience a variety of diverse music genres. While in the past many concerts were viewed in person, concerts and related conversation, lectures, and more are now available online, and they are free of charge.  Past performances can be viewed on the Library of Congress YouTube page.

Digital collections…The Library of Congress has numerous digital collections. Among these are the Performing Arts digital collections, which include a range of interesting materials related to music. These collections contain audio recordings, manuscripts, sheet music, photographs, prints, videos, and more.

Compare different renditions of Amazing Grace by performers like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and the Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards using the Amazing Grace collection. Other notable digital collections include the 10th-16th Century Liturgical Chants, African-American Band Music & Recordings, 1883-1923, Dolly Parton and the Roots of Country Music, Early American Sheet Music, and Great Conversations in Music, just to name a few.

National Jukebox…One of these digital collections is the National Jukebox collection.  The National Jukebox contains over 10,000 historical sound recordings made between 1901 and 1925 from collections of the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center and “other contributing libraries and archives.” These recordings “were issued on record labels now owned by Sony Music Entertainment: and are “available to the public free of charge.”

Citizen DJ…Want to have a little fun with the Library’s audio collections? Check out Citizen DJ. Part of Library of Congress, Labs, Citizen DJ is an interactive way to engage with the Library’s audio collections. Developed by Brian Foo while he was an Innovator in Residence at the Library of Congress, Citizen DJ “invites the public to make hip hop music using the Library’s public audio and moving image collections.”

  • Invite students to try out remixing while exploring different kinds of music.
  • Possibilities, growing and changing, new and exciting ways, discoveries.

Talk to Your Librarian

AskALibrarian…reference desk, call, email, text, instant message and make recommendations


If you want to teach your students about the history  and development of music, instruments, and the lives and works of musicians through primary sources, take a look at what archives have to offer. Archives house manuscripts, records, audiovisual materials, and artifacts from the past. While some materials have restrictions due to the age and rarity of the material, many materials can viewed online in digital collections or copies can be requested (likely for a fee).

Beethoven-Haus Digital Archives…The Beethoven-Haus Digital Archives…, which includes music manuscripts, written documents, music prints, photographs, objects, audio clips, and more. Archives (or special collections) are often part or working conjunction with libraries, museums, universities, or government entities, so many of their holdings can be found through these entities.


Museums…Museums have exhibitions that present modern day marvels as well as give insight into the past. Museums can focus entirely on a narrow topic, such as a musician or music genre, or a broad topic with exhibits covering a variety of topics. They are great places for a field trip where students can stand face to face with artifacts and get a real sense of their impact. However, a trip to a museum may not be a possibility due to logistics, budget restraints, or many other restrictions facing educators. Thankfully, many museums provide resources online that an educator can use to build lessons and/or share with their students.

Online Collections

Some museums make their collections available to view online, which can provide excellent visuals and audio to a lesson. The National Museum at the University of South Dakota has an online collection viewable from their e-Museum. One can view images of musical instruments predating 1800 to get a sense of the evolution of instruments and their differences from modern day instruments. Images include accordions and harmonicas, keyboards, woodwinds, and string, brass, electronic, mechanical, and percussion instruments, and more.

Looking for something a little more modern? Check out the Smithsonian’s collection on Hip-Hop and Rap where you can view images of influential hip-hop and rap artists, significant artifacts like the boombox used by Public Enemy, and much more.

Online Exhibits

Museum exhibits are not limited to in-person visits. Many museums provide online exhibits, often in conjunction with their in-person exhibits. The Smithsonian museums are an outstanding example of this.

Duke Ellington…Check out Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn: Jazz Composers exhibit through the National Museum of American History. Using documents from the museum’s Archives Center, as well as audio and video recordings, the exhibition looks at the composters and their works “Caravan” (1936) by Ellington and Juan Tizol and “Take the ‘A’ Train” (1941) by Strayhorn.

Ella Fitzgerald…Another National Museum of American History online exhibit, The First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100 (originally at the museum in 2018) uses documents, images, audio and video recordings, and objects from the Archives Center and the Ella Fitzgerald Estate to tell the story of Fitzgerald’s work and life as a jazz artist.

Electric Guitar…Another worthy National Museum of American History exhibit is Invention of the Electric Guitar. Learn about the different kinds of electric guitars from their invention an dhow they work to their designs and their commercial success with the help of diagrams and audio samples.

Educator Resources

Many museums offer resources for teaching students

Smithsonian Learning Lab…An example of this is the Smithsonian’s Learning Lab where teachers and students have access to millions of digital resources from Smithsonian libraries, archives, museums, research centers, and more. You can search for collections with lessons and educational resources. For example, Jazz Resources for Preschool Students or Critical Listening of Country Music- The Evolution of Popular Country Music. You can also create your own collection using the Smithsonian’s resources with the option to add your own, so may support your lessons.

Folksways Recording…Folksways Recording, a nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, not only produces audio recordings, they provide lesson plans for educators that help spread knowledge of a diverse assortment of music and cultural heritage. Interested in teaching about the music of the Bedouin Culture or the Folk Music of Turkey? They have that covered along with much more.

Bill Stevens
Bill Stevens
Bill Stevens is a husband, music educator, blogger, and advocating lover of the arts. He currently teaches middle school band in Northern Virginia and lives in beautiful Leesburg, Virginia, U.S.A. He is the founder of the website “Band Buzz” and his mission is to provide educators with the resources that help strengthen their professional lives. Stevens grew up in a middle-class family in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area where his world revolved around his family. He attended Quartz High School in southern California and during his tenure, he joined the school’s band, where his first band director, John McQuilkin, became one of his most highly influential teachers. In 1997, Stevens decided to attend Louisiana State University as a music education major. He actively participated in the LSU Tiger Band and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. After completing his degree, Stevens started teaching as a band director in a small rural community located in North West Louisiana. As time and experience drew on, Stevens made life choices that lead him to teach in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Manassas, Virginia. He added two masters degrees, one in Music Education and the other in Management. His passion for learning grew, and he finally found the woman of his dreams, whom he now calls his wife. Stevens’ mission is to provide educators, students, and lifelong learners with the resources that help strengthen their professional lives. He encourages people to subscribe to his blog and join in the conversation. If anyone has questions about a particular subject or would like him to elaborate on a topic, they can email him at []( In conclusion, Bill Stevens is a passionate music educator who believes in the power of innovation, content, and collaboration.


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